At their best, Manchester United are a side that thrives when chances are continually created from their wingers and from a central-creative player in support of a lead striker. From the likes of Andrei Kanchelskis, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, and Cristiano Ronaldo flying up-and-down the flanks, to the likes of Eric Cantona, Paul Scholes, and Wayne Rooney offering their brilliance in the space between the lines, Sir Alex Ferguson has been blessed with an abundance of phenomenal players for these roles during his long reign at Old Trafford.
United's current set of wingers are a talented bunch, but they have been struggling this season. In the central-creative role though, the gaffer has two terrific options in Rooney and Shinji Kagawa. A worry for United supporters in the past few seasons has been how much creativity would United lose if Wazza went down with an injury or if he were to lose form. His dip in form for last season's latter half is arguably a big reason why Manchester City won the title.
At his best in this creative role -- which may have occurred for the run-in of the 2010/11 season -- Rooney is what Jonathan Wilson describes as the quintessential No.10:
He is a phenomenon; because as both a typically English player and a number 10, he offers a unique blend of skills. Perhaps his touch is not quite as deft as a Luka Modric or a Juan Roman Riquelme, perhaps his close control is a fraction off; but he is explosive and powerful and seems almost to relish tracking back. He is somehow both midfield shuffler and creator and while that may diminish his aesthetic appeal, it also means United can field two ball-playing central midfielders in Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs without fear of being overrun.
I can't really describe Rooney better than that.
Kagawa is a more of a pure No.10. Even though he's uniquely different than this group of players, perhaps in that he's a bit more direct than most of them, the Japanese international is more in the mold of a Juan Mata, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, or David Silva type. His imagination, close-control, appreciation of space, technique, and ability to keep his side ticking in the attacking third is hugely impressive. These attributes were vital for Borussia Dortmund in their recent Bundesliga title-winning seasons.
Early this season though, Kagawa struggled to establish himself at his new club. Injuries have forced him to miss a few months already and as Michael Cox wrote in October, United didn't really know how to play with the Japanese playmaker:
Kagawa's problem is that United aren't playing the ball to him in the right fashion... Kagawa wants the ball on the run. Dortmund were a transition-based side that played the ball forward quickly, and United are yet to get into that mindset. They traditionally retain possession, put pressure upon the opposition and combine diagonal balls to the flanks with crosses into the box. So we shouldn't be surprised that Kagawa is yet to sparkle.
Quite simply, United have never had this sort of player under Ferguson -- or possibly ever -- so they've struggled to adapt to the talented No.10. Fortunately, in recent weeks versus both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, Kagawa did sparkle in those matches.
Going forward, if both players remain healthy, Ferguson's first-choice No.10 will be between these two. Rooney likely has the upper-hand for this for various reasons and if the two are playing similarly well, he'll likely get the starts in this role in the most important games. Fortunately for both players, the fixture list is going be congested soon with United having to juggle their Premier League, Champions League, and FA Cup ambitions. Therefore, both should see plenty of opportunities in their preferred No.10 role. In addition, both players are versatile and are able to feature effectively in other roles.
If both players are in good form and fit though, which player do you prefer to be United's first-choice No.10? Think of it this way -- which player would you like to see in this key role if the opponent was a Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, or Manchester City?